Well, looks like winters coming early this year. The temps have been dropping down into the 30's at night here. The brewery is in an uninsulated garage so my ambient temps in the winter usually hover around the mid 40's. My wife parks her car there so the engine actually heats up the space a little in the evening when she comes home. 40 - 50 degrees is great for lager yeast brewing! Unfortunately I'm working on ales right now still.
So I need to do some work to get the temps back up without breaking the bank in utility bills. I have a few options. and I usually use a combination of these to keep my temps up when its cold. First up is to use a parabolic space heater.
I use to use this thing when I was brewing inside. I could set this up in a large closet or the pantry and it would keep the room warm, if not hot. I had to stop using this thing after I melted the chocolate chips and candy bars that were in the pantry too. Didn't bother me, but my "room mate" wasn't to thrilled. I snuck it in from time to time until I bought one of these.
This is a Brew Belt. They come in different makes and models, but they are all pretty similar. These wrap around your fermenting bucket or carboy and heat up when plugged in. The package says it will heat the beer to between 75 and 80 degrees, but I think that's under ideal conditions. I can usually get mine to heat about 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. The instructions say you can adjust heating by moving the belt higher on the fermenter for slower heating, and lower on the fermenter for higher heating. I'm not sure if that's true, I just wrap it on about midway and let it run. If its getting warm, I unplug it. Problem I'm finding with these things is that when I have temps like I do right now, in the high 40's to low 50's, I cannot keep my beer warm enough for a nice primary ferment. So, enter the third and most glamorously high tech trick in the brewery.
Towels! What can't these things do? Soak up the beer that spills on the ground, keep my hands from burning when I'm moving my keggle off the burner, keep the sunlight away from my beer so it doesn't skunk, and keep my buckets insulated! My wife tries to donate these towels when her color scheme's change, or she says the Hawaiian beach ones are ugly and she doesn't want any guests to see them. We'll take them all. I even have one that's never been welcome in the house from the Riviera in Vegas showing 8 topless showgirls in thongs! Anyway, back to the towel. I've found that if you wrap the towel around your fermenter right when you pitch it'll hold the higher 60's temp for plenty of time. The yeast will start doing their thing and they help to keep the temps up somewhat. If I were trying to cool off my beer, like I do in the summers, I take my towel and spray it down with the hose, then wrap it over the fermenter. The water evaporates off the towel and takes the heat from the beer away with it.
Now the situation I've got with this Jubelale is that I didn't cover it with the towel, and the brew belt is just barely keeping the temp at about 60. I need about 5-8 more degrees out of this thing to keep my yeast happy. So if I combine the towel and belt I should be able to make some headway on my heat.
Other products are out there to heat up the beer, but I'm not sure to what extent they work. William's Brewing has a Brew Pad which supposedly heats up to 12 degrees higher than ambient temps. Some people have dedicated fermentation chambers with temperature control sensors that will turn on a heater, or a cooler depending on whats needed. There are also built in temp control aspects to some HIGH end fermenters which feature heating coils, and glycol coils to heat or cool depending on the temps. For now, I'll stick with my brew belt and towels. The Jubel took about 24 hours to start fermenting. That's a little longer than I like to see, but I'd say it was mostly due to the cold temperature I made it sit at. Things are moving right along now though, and everything looks and smells just fine.